Royal Mail Criticised For Shutting Down Parcel Tracking By Third Party Apps

By James O Malley on at

Unlike Amazon, UPS, DHL and seemingly ever other delivery service, Royal Mail doesn't have an app for tracking parcels. In fact, the only way to do it is to log on to the Royal Mail website, enter your code, and hope that the stuff you're waiting for is a little bit closer to your house. And in an era of push alerts, this is very annoying to do.

The good news was that there were a number of third party apps to make this easier. One example is, Parcel, aggregates all of your incoming deliveries. Meaning that no matter who is delivering it, you can track it and get push alerts with the one app. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, for Royal Mail packages, this no longer works. As it looks like a recent, seemingly innocuous change by Royal Mail could - possibly inadvertently - have broken Parcel and other third party tracking apps.

The problem is that Royal Mail has added a captcha to the tracking form - that's the little image where you have to enter the word or numbers to prove that you're human. And because Royal Mail has no official mechanism - such as an API - for apps to access tracking data, the way tracking apps would work is by "scraping" the data - essentially downloading the same tracking page users see, and extracting the relevant data. With the Captcha now in place, because apps are not human, they cannot fill in the correct captcha code, and thus access the data.

Parcel creator Ivan Pavlov tells me that he has previously spoke to Royal Mail management about the change, and they told him that it is part of their "strategy" to not share tracking data with anyone else.

As a result of the change, a petition has been created. "We live in the era of mobile applications where consumers have a freedom of choice. Limiting customers to a website only in 2017 is just not acceptable", the petition creator says. It currently has around 2500 signatures.

We've reached out to Royal Mail to ask why they've decided to make these changes and will update this post if they respond.

Here's hoping they can figure out a workable solution soon.

Update: Royal Mail has got in touch. On introducing the Captcha, their spokesperson says:

"We are currently using Google’s reCaptcha to protect our website. This helps to prevent malware, viruses or phishing, allowing us to provide consistent performance for genuine customers."

"We always consider feedback as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the products and services we offer."

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